Chennai, India Report of what it's like to live there - 04/24/21
Personal Experiences from Chennai, India
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, other cities in Asia and the Middle East.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
U.S.A. Trips back typically require a stopover in New Delhi followed by a direct flight to a number of U.S. cities.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Most people seem happy with their housing. There are a number of large, older houses mixed with new modern apartments.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Local produce and seafood are plentiful and inexpensive. You can buy a KG of fresh shrimp at the fish market for about 10 USD. There is no longer a consumables shipment so you will want to ship items in your HHE that are cost-prohibitive, such as: olive oil, maple syrup, peanut butter, pasta sauce, etc. It should be noted that you can buy almost anything here, but you will pay dearly for it in the case of imported items. The pouch is very restrictive when it comes to shipping liquid items.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
See above. Most everything aside from liquids above 16oz can be sent in the pouch. Many people receive regular large orders from Costo.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are a number of international restaurants here. Korean, Italian, American, Thai, Chinese, etc. Some are better than others, almost all deliver. South Indian food is quite good and generally inexpensive.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Lots of ants. GSO has ant traps that help control them.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic pouch primarily. However, Amazon India is fast and adequate in some cases, although the quality is generally on the lower side. You can order things from all over the country, such as coffee, pretty easily.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Most families employ some sort of domestic help. There is a large list of recommended employees that the Community Liaison Office (CLO) maintains. Many people have drivers, nannies, housekeepers, and cooks. The cost is generally inexpensive and people seem satisfied for the most part with the services provided. Most of the domestic staff in the consulate pool will expect a yearly bonus equivalent to one month's salary as well as yearly raises and severance pay.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are a number of gyms available that seem to be more than adequate. There is also a small gym at the consulate.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
You will need to get a local bank account. U.S. cards are accepted in a lot of places but don't work in many places. It's kind of a pain to set up the account but the B&F folks make the process much easier.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
No idea. There are a number of churches and mosques though.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Many people speak English but there is a large segment of the population who does not. Tamil is a difficult language to learn but I assume there are some tutors available.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. It would be extremely challenging to serve here with any sort of mobility issues.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Available and affordable, yes. Uber is widely available and you can get anywhere in the city for a few dollars max.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
You can only import a right-side drive car and there are many restrictions with regard to age, pollutions controls, etc. Many people buy cars from other officers and some purchase locally. The process of registration is a bit laborious but can be done in less than two months.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Internet is very fast here. Actually, it is the fastest internet I have ever experienced. I think we prepaid our fiber connection for one year which gave us two months free, and it ended up being like $50 a month. About once a month somebody will cut a cable out in town or there will be some sort of outage. Usually these are addressed the same day.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Your sponsor will need to get a SIM card for you prior to your arrival. Again...lots of paperwork involved. However, once you are set up, its fast and cheap - about $5 a month.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
I imagine that working in the local economy would be challenging. There are occasionally EFM jobs at the consulate.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Most men wear chino type pants and a tucked in shirt; jeans are not uncommon. Females typically wear some sort of dress or business casual type outfit. I think in two years I wore a suit and tie maybe twice.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Pickpocketing and petty crime happen although it is not widespread. There is some violence but not typically directed towards foreigners.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is available, but somewhat lacking. If it were anything serious, I would want to be medevaced.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Air quality is much better than in other parts of India. Some days it is worse than others but generally less than 150 AQI. During trips to New Delhi I saw it exceed 500. We don't generally have anything like that in Chennai.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
If you are a vegetarian you will be very happy here. I have gotten sick a few times from food but not nearly as often as I thought I would have.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It's generally very hot and humid for most of the year. I have four dehumidifiers in my house that I empty twice a day. From December to January the temperatures drop, making it quite comfortable.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I often hear from other officers that AISC is one of the best international schools in the world. The campus is beautiful and the teachers are top-notch. The school communicates well with parents and the quality of instruction is incredible.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
They are flexible. Contact them before you arrive.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Many preschools of varying quality. Contact the CLO for a list of the ones frequented by consulate staff. Many are closed due to COVID.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Basketball, cricket, martial arts. All are available here.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There is a very large Korean population in Chennai. Other nationalities seem to be represented on a much smaller scale.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This would be a challenging post for a single person. As South India is generally conservative, nightlife is almost nonexistent. Families seem the most happy here.
3. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The school, the food, and trips outside of Chennai. Puducherry is less than three hours away and there are lots of great beaches south of the city. Flights to other parts of India are inexpensive.
4. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
You can get high-quality picture frames made for very fair prices. If you have any art you have been waiting to frame, bring it with you.
5. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
You will save a lot of money. Chennai is a great city and the people are wonderful.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
You figure things out as you go. India is not nearly as intimidating as I imagined it would be.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your: